The Governors of the Hudson’s Bay Company, part 2: 1770 to 1869

Sir Bibye Lake, Jr., Kt. (1720s?-1782), 1770-82. Bibye Jr. was the son of HBC governor Sir Bibye Lake Sr. and the younger brother of governor Sir Atwell Lake. He joined the HBC board of directors in 1743 and became Deputy Governor in 1765, then Governor in 1770, serving until his death at his home in Hertfordshire twelve years later. During Lake’s time as Governor, Samuel Hearne reached the shores of the Arctic Ocean at Coronation Gulf, near what is now Kugluktuk, coming overland from Hudson Bay in 1771; the first inland trading post, at Cumberland House, was built in 1774; Peter Pond discovered the Athabasca tar sands and founded Fort Chipewyan in 1778; and the HBC’s great rival in the fur trade, the North West Company, was founded in Montreal in 1779.

Samuel Wegg, FRS (1723-1802), 1782-99. Born in Colchester, Essex, Wegg studied law at Cambridge and became a lawyer, inheriting his first stock in the HBC from his father in 1748. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1753, then joined the HBC board of directors in 1760 before becoming Governor in 1782. It was during his time as Governor that Sir Alexander Mackenzie went on his legendary expeditions, reaching the Arctic Ocean overland in 1789 and the Pacific in 1793. This period also saw the Company’s London headquarters move into a new Hudson’s Bay House at numbers 3 and 4, Fenchurch Street, in 1795. Wegg died at his home in Acton in 1802, a few years after retiring from public life.

Sir James Winter Lake, Bt. (1741-1807), 1799-1807. Sir James Winter Lake, the grandson, son and nephew of three previous governors of the HBC, inherited his father’s HBC stock in 1760 and joined the board of directors in 1762, becoming Deputy Governor in 1782 and Governor in 1799. During his time as Governor the city of Edmonton, Alberta, was founded, named after the town in Middlesex where the Lake family resided.

William Mainwaring (1737-1812), 1807-12. Mainwaring was born in Staffordshire, joined the HBC board of directors in 1794, became Deputy Governor in 1805, then Governor in 1807, serving until his death. It was under Mainwaring that the HBC began expanding into British Columbia, with David Thompson crossing the Rockies on a mapmaking expedition in 1807 and Simon Fraser exploring his eponymous river in 1808. It was also at this time that the Earl of Selkirk purchased a tract of land on the Red River from the HBC in 1811 to establish a colony for poor Scottish settlers.

Joseph Berens, Jr. (1770s?-1853), 1812-22. Joseph Berens, Jr. was an Oxford-educated lawyer whose father. Joseph Sr., and grandfather, Herman, had both been HBC directors. Joseph Jr. joined the board of directors in 1801, became Deputy Governor in 1807, and Governor in 1812. He quit as Governor in 1822 but stayed on the board of directors, finally retiring in 1833. The Berens River in Manitoba was named after him. During the Berens governorship, HBC operatives and Selkirk settlers in the Red River Settlement were attacked by North West Company operatives at the Seven Oaks Massacre in 1816. The southern Red River valley was lost to the US in the Treaty of Washington in 1818. In 1815 the Company created the post of Governor-in-Chief of Rupert’s Land to act as colonial administrator over their North American territories, with Robert Semple as the first Governor; he was replaced by William Williams in 1816 after Semple was killed in the Seven Oaks Massacre. Importantly, in 1821 the HBC finally merged with the NWC, eliminating its biggest competitor; the post of Governor-in-Chief was dissolved and replaced by governors of the Northern and Southern Departments, split roughly at the modern border between Ontario and Manitoba. Williams stayed on as Governor of the Southern (or, more accurately, Eastern) Department, and to govern the western expanses of the Northern Department the HBC sent a functionary named George Simpson, beginning a forty-year reign over the Canadian West by the man known to his contemporaries as “the little emperor”.

Sir John Henry Pelly, Bt. (1777-1852), 1822-52. John Henry Pelly was a fourth-generation sailor and served in the Royal Navy as a youth before turning to business. He owned shares in a hardware supplier and a Norwegian timber company and was involved in the governance of the Corporation of Trinity House, the UK’s lighthouse and deep-sea pilotage authority. Pelly joined the HBC board of directors in 1812 and in 1822 became Governor, serving for thirty years until his death in 1852. Under Pelly, the HBC built Fort Garry, which is now Winnipeg, in 1831; George Simpson, who took over as Governor of both the northern and Southern Departments in 1826, was designated as Governor-in-Chief of Rupert’s Land in 1839, then circled the globe promoting the HBC’s interests in international markets, and was knighted for his efforts; and the HBC’s territory on Vancouver Island was made a Crown Colony in 1849.

Andrew Wedderburn Colvile (1779-1856), 1852-56. Born Andrew Wedderburn in Scotland, his grandfather had lost his estate after the Second Jacobite Rebellion in 1745 and most of the family moved to Jamaica, where Andrew’s father, James Wedderburn, an unlicensed doctor, built up a lucrative sugar plantation. Andrew inherited his father’s estates and set up a prosperous sugar brokerage firm, then in 1814 Andrew changed his surname to Colvile, as his mother Isabella had become the heiress to the last Lord Colvile of Ochiltree. Colville joined the HBC board of directors in 1810 and served the company for 46 years, the last four of which were as Governor.

John Shepherd (1792-1859), 1856-58. John Shepherd’s main area of business was in the British East India Company, where he was a director continually from 1835 to 1858 and served three one-year terms as Chairman in 1844, 1850 and 1851. He joined the HBC board of directors in 1850, became Deputy Governor in 1852, then Governor in 1856, serving two years before retiring in 1858. He died a year later. During Shepherd’s governorship, John Palliser began his survey of HBC lands in 1857 and British Columbia was made a Crown Colony in 1858.

Henry Hulse Berens (1804-83), 1858-63. Henry Berens, the son of Governor Joseph Berens Jr., joined the HBC board of directors in 1833, became Deputy Governor in 1856, then Governor in 1858. Berens was the first Governor to actually set foot on the HBC’s territorial possessions when he visited the Red River Settlement in 1833. During Berens’s term, the HBC lost its licence for its monopoly on trading rights in Rupert’s Land in 1859, and Sir George Simpson died in 1860, with Alexander Grant Dallas succeeding him as Governor-in-Chief of Rupert’s Land. In 1863, the HBC was bought out by the International Finance Society, a consortium led by railway tycoon Edward William Watkin, which reorganized the HBC’s corporate structure, sacking Berens in the process.

The Rt. Hon. Sir Edmund Walker Head, Bt., KCB PC FRS (1805-68), 1863-68. Edmund was born in Essex and went to Winchester before he studied and taught classics at Oxford, where he translated some of the Icelandic sagas. He left Oxford in 1838, the year he married and inherited his father’s baronetcy. Sir Edmund served as a commissioner of the Poor Law and wrote a three-volume treatise on schools of European painting before being appointed Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick in 1848, where he oversaw the establishment of responsible government there. He was then appointed Governor-General of the Province of Canada in 1854, serving until 1861; for most of that time, Canada was governed by John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier as premier and deputy premier. Sir Edmund was elected as Governor of the HBC in 1863, at which time he was in negotiations with the Colonial office for the transfer of Rupert’s Land from the Company to the British government as a Crown Colony; however, little progress was made before Sir Edmund died suddenly of a heart attack in January of 1868. During his tenure, William Mactavish was appointed Governor-in-Chief of Rupert’s Land in 1864, serving until 1869, and the London headquarters of the Company moved to a new Hudson’s Bay House down the block at 1 Lime Street in 1865.

The Rt. Hon. Sir John Wodehouse, 1st Earl of Kimberley, 3rd Baron Wodehouse, KG PC (1826-1902), 1868-69. Born at his family’s estate in Norfolk and educated at Eton and Oxford, Wodehouse inherited his grandfather’s peerage in 1846 and sat in the House of Lords as a Liberal. He was made Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the governments of Lord Aberdeen and Lord Palmerston, the became Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for India in 1864 before becoming Lord Lieutenant of Ireland later that year. Wodehouse became the first Earl of Kimberley in 1866 upon leaving Cabinet due to the government’s defeat. Now in Opposition, Kimberley accepted his election as HBC Governor in February 1868, to replace the recently deceased Sir Edmund Head; however, the election of the Liberals under William Gladstone in December of that year saw Kimberley re-appointed to Cabinet as Lord Privy Seal, and so he quit as Governor in early January of 1869, after less than a year in office. Although short, Kimberley’s tenure was very important; in October of 1868, he was involved in negotiations with the Colonial Office and a delegation from the new Dominion of Canada, led by Sir George-Étienne Cartier and Sir William McDougall, for the transfer of Rupert’s Land to the new country.

Kimberley went on to serve in all four of Gladstone’s ministries, later becoming Colonial Secretary, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Secretary of State for India, and Lord President of the Council. He capped off his long political career with his service as Foreign Secretary in the ministry of the Earl of Rosebery from 1894 to 1895. Kimberley died at his London home in 1902; the town of Kimberley, South Africa, is named after him. Kimberley was third cousins with the famous author P.G. Wodehouse.


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